About Acratophorus

I am a rope stretched over the abyss.

Frequency Update

Good morning internet, and happy Monday (with various definitions of “happy” implied). This will just be a short update on my posting frequency. Last week I said that I planned on doing some work here every weekday, Monday through Friday. That still stands, but I wanted to clarify how often I believe I’ll have an actual post published. For the sake for my own sanity, I’m going to aim for a new published post every Wednesday. I’d like to post more often, but many of the topics I want to tackle require more than an hour and a half stream of conscious rant while I finish my morning coffee. Also, I have other goals that require “extra-curricular” work, and my free hours are limited these days. If once a week goes smoothly I’ll try to branch out from there.

As a preview of coming attractions, I have three posts in the works:

#1 My in depth analysis of the Philosophy of Josiah Royce. This will probably be a multi-part series of posts and is minimally a month out.

#2 An explanation of the “Slipcase” note taking method, subtitled “Why it’s taking me so damn long to finish proposed blog post #1”

#3 Why I hate hipster-ism.

Also, more pretentious philosophical ramblings, as per usual.

You’re welcome,

– B

Royce, a (Very) Brief Introduction

Royce_beginning

In early December I started reading The Philosophy of Josiah Royce.

Before I go any further in this post, I must confess I’m only half way through, so I reserve the right to modify my opinion in the future, but as it stands now, I feel that the philosophy of Josiah Royce will be the new baseline from which I continue all my future work. When I search for words to describe my feelings on discovering Royce, I keep thinking of Nietzsche’s sentiment on his discovery of Spinoza, “I am utterly amazed, utterly enchanted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor!”

Royce is a forgotten, one may say almost unknown, American philosopher. He is generally considered to belong to the school of American Pragmatism. Pragmatism has sadly been neglected as a philosophical school in the modern age, although it still has some cache as an influence in psychology, due to the valuable work of founder William James, and in the largely misnamed social “sciences”, due to the fake pragmatist and general communist villain John Dewey.

You’d never know it from the wikipedia page, but Royce is one of the founding three members of American Pragmatism. I believe Royce has largely been excised because his philosophy is decidedly Idealistic and religious. By Idealism I mean philosophical Idealism, not the colloquial sense of being “well meaning but naive”. While the full implications of Idealism and by extension Royce’s philosophy go far beyond what I can express in a single post, Idealism generally assets that the fundamental nature of reality is consciousness or mental phenomenon. By religious I mean that Royce is most concerned with the profound questions of metaphysical significance and the nature of the supreme and absolute Being, aka “God” – both unfashionable avenues of exploration in today’s intellectual climate.

I would like to say more, and will in the future, but that’s all the time I can devote to the blog today.

Best wishes,

– B

The Eternal Return of the Blog

Hello internet, I’m back.

I find it hard to believe I haven’t posted since 2017. To be honest, I have never been what one would call a regular blogger. Sporadic is the phrase that comes to mind. If you’ll forgive the self indulgence, I’d like to say a few words in my defense and lay out my future plans for this space.

I started this blog way back in 2012. Prior to that I was active on LiveJournal when it was the “hot new thing” – post MySpace but before Facebook. More specifically I was active in a particular LiveJournal subculture. From around 2000 till I believe 2013 I was an active member of the Ordo Templi Orientis. (I was also involved in some smaller related organizations, but those were mostly adjuncts to my main “occulture” investment). LiveJournal was, for a while, very popular in among that group of people, and we would discuss, fight, argue, joke around. In the larger world, no one gave a shit about us, but we had our own celebrities, scandals, power plays, politicians, jokers, entertainers, intellectuals and fans. I was attached to what could be called a reformist movement. We saw ourselves as fighting for the future of our group and by extension civilization as a whole. We had a dangerous “bad boy” reputation, and we loved that. We felt important, and would chat for hours both on and offline about our struggles and in group drama.

Things eventually went sideways. The details will have to wait for some future time but I’ll give you the short version: I was “all in” for a long time… and then I wasn’t. This divorce was messy and ugly and took years to play out in full. I lost friends, but far more challenging than that, I lost a core piece of my identity; not because I was that attached to being a member of any particular group, but because my confidence in the underlying paradigm behind these organizations could no longer be sustained. Call it a crisis of faith if you will. Around the same time-period, and not entirely unrelated, I went through an actual divorce. It was a rough period.

I eventually found my feet again, with a renewed interest in philosophy, new friends (and closer relationships with the friends that stuck with me) and eventually a new marriage, a new career, and a more recently a family. With all the change going on in my life a commitment to blogging just couldn’t be sustained. I tried to channel the fruits of my reading and thinking through this space, but that was haphazard at best. I even considered deleting it, closing up shop, and moving on.

The initial impetus to create this blog was muddy. I was trying to find my feet again philosophically, but I also wanted to make something that other people would find interesting. I missed the heady days of LiveJournal and I wanted some of that feeling back. In the back of my mind, I also was cognizant of the growing market for a new intellectual movement. I wanted to be part of the conversation. I also missed having a creative outlet. All of those are good honest reasons to write, but when you’re working full time, starting a family, and trying to hit the books in the little free time you have, a muddy conglomeration of interests just isn’t a luxury for which you have the time.

So why am I back now? The most honest answer is that I can’t stay away. True, I have a little more time now – maybe an extra hour or two a day, but that doesn’t explain why I’m using that time to write a blog that very few people read. I’m doing it because I have to speak my truth, and this is as good a place as any. For some reason, preparing a piece that I know is going to be put “out there” forces me to put my thoughts together in a way that writing in a personal journal does not. Even if no one else reads this, it’s useful for me, but useful doesn’t tell the whole story.

When I was around thirteen I decided I wanted to be a writer. I would dabble in it from time to time and then do something more pressing. I told myself that “one day” I would come back to it, but there was always a reason I couldn’t do it “right now”. After twenty plus years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to write, for me. Even if no one else reads what I write, even if I still have to struggle to fit it in between my day job and my family and friends and exercise and all the other demands of life, I need it. When I don’t write I feel like I’m not being true to myself; like something is missing or I’ve forgotten something important that I just can’t quite remember. When I’m not writing, I feel like I’m shirking my duty to myself. I guess after half a lifetime of wondering if this was something I really wanted to do, I’ve discovered it’s something I have to do – whether I “really want to” or not.

For now, I’m going to keep my plans loose. Fate permitting, I’ll be working on a blog post every day Monday through Friday. I can’t promise I’ll be able to publish every day. It will depend on the nature of the post and, as always, the vicissitudes of life. I’m mostly writing this post today to clear my mind and prime the writing pump. We’ll see what happens.

Best wishes,

– B

Good, Evil and the Sage

A friend wrote me last week asking for some advice.  While not an orthodox Taoist he has been studying the tradition for many years, and finding himself in a difficult living situation, turned to the I-Ching oracle for assistance. He found the response puzzling and had difficulty reconciling it with his understanding of the Taoist philosophy.   He wrote:

“The Zang Zi seems to advise that rulership as such is a lost cause, one should aspire to the nature of the sage, and then without doing, the kingdom will be in order. It cautions against differentiating between that which is good and that which is bad.

the 44th hexagram in the Yi, encourages a ruler to weed out the evil influence in his court.

How are these reconciled?”

Lao_Tzu_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_15250

While I have great deal of positive regard for Taoism, I’m not a Taoist, so I don’t think I can resolve this issue from inside a Taoist perspective. There are, however, some points of contact here with the classical Greek tradition that might prove helpful.

First, perhaps we should examine the question of good and evil. The injunction to avoid distinctions of good and evil strikes many as hard to reconcile with our moral intuitions. Yet there are several mystics and philosophers who have denied the validity of these intuitions: from Protagoras to Thrasymachus to Nietzsche to Crowley. Furthermore, in the age of modern relativism, we shy away from any claim to absolute moral authority. It is attractive therefore to try and toss the whole question of ethics overboard and be done with it, even if we still feel uncomfortable affirming the moral neutrality of such practices as rape, murder, torture, theft and genocide. This leads us to a difficult and philosophically untenable position. As a result we usually end up just avoiding the question. But since we have no choice, let us take it up here, if only provisionally and in brief.

How can we understand the injunction to avoid distinctions of good and evil? One way is with the emphasis on the idea of distinction. Here the issue is not so much moral ideology per se, but our human preferences. Following this interpretation we read the injunction as saying that we should not attempt to reach good or bad results, but simply resign ourselves to the working out of fate. After all, the final outcome of events is not up to us. The Stoics compared man to a dog chained to a cart. The dog may pull this way or that, but in the end he will go where the cart goes. He can do so willingly and enjoy the ride, running and sniffing within the boundary the chain gives him, or he can refuse to cooperate, fight the cart, choke himself on the lead and be dragged. This is perhaps the most mystical of the interpretations.

There is, however, a problem here, because without valuation of some kind, we cannot act. The world does not provide us with a fixed direction, but a field of many possible directions and interpretations. While we might ultimately be dragged by fate, the workings of fate are not immediately apparent to us. We must use our reason to determine what is most likely to be beneficial and attainable, and this is an act of valuation. Valuation presuppose a desired and undesired outcome and here we have returned to the question of preference. If we take the injunction to avoid valuation merely at face value the it is grossly nihilistic and must end in either slavery to some directing agent who holds a different philosophy, or in a chaos of moment to moment impulses, or to a wasting catatonia. We must therefore reject this perspective and unhelpful.

There is, however, another option which is to look deeper into the philosophical system and see what rhetorical purpose the injunction serves. For example, there is a sophisticated solution in Stoicism for this problem, which hinges on the concepts of divine providence, duty, the nature of happiness, and the distinction between simply fated and dependently fated events. An important point here is that the Stoics do not deny the validity of ethics, only change its emphasis from the common view of external events as good if pleasant and evil if harmful to one of human character. External events in Stoicism are viewed as neither good nor evil, but indifferent. If we choose to interpret the original injunction in this light, we see it as not so much a definitive an universal axiom, but an attempt to redirect the reader to a different standard of evaluation – one looking not to results but to personal behavior. The form this takes depends on larger metaphysical conceptions. A practitioner of this interpretation might take up Christian quietism, or Roman heroism, or a Taoist amused wandering. That will depend on the rest of the philosophical system and how it puts forward a view of human nature, and therefore an ideal.

Returning to your dilemma and viewing it through this lens, aspiring to the ideal of the sage means viewing external occurrences as indifferent, and focusing on the improvement and satisfaction of your own character. You should not run around trying to “fix” the world, because the state of the world is an indifferent. It will be what it will be. Rather, you should focus on yourself. The advice that the ruler should remove ill influences from his court, that is to say his intimate surroundings, influences that are likely to affect his character for the worse, is rendered rather straightforward and practical. I may be biased, but I see this as perfectly compatible with Taoist precepts.

Marcus_Aurelius_Marble_Bust

Another possible interpretation is to place the emphasis not on the act of valuation, but on the distinction of moral worth. Here moral imperatives are viewed as nothing more than human imaginary constructs. Individuals are still however free to regard particular outcomes as good or “evil” for them personally or for their group. Under this interpretation, there are no ideals, but there are desirable and undesirable outcomes. The attractiveness of this view is that it seems to promise us the ability to “eat our cake, and still have it too”. We can still hold to some kind of moral intuition, and avoid all the messy questions of ultimate right or wrong. There are still aspects of our conventional morality we will have to jettison. For example, while we might not wish to be robbed, or live in a society full of robbers, we can’t say there is anything necessarily wrong with our stealing from someone else – provided we think we can get away with it, for instance if we are in another country and unlikely to ever return.

The problem with this view is two-fold. As pointed out earlier, final outcomes are rarely up to us. We can aim for a particular outcome but we cannot guarantee we will achieve it. Therefore this philosophy depends a great deal on “luck” and we are just as likely to be frustrated as to be satisfied. The second problem is that absent an ideal, there is often a great deal of conflicting possibilities, none of which present themselves as the most obviously satisfactory. Some courses of action are immediately unpleasant, but result in a more satisfactory existence in the long term, or at least are more likely to do so. For example, indiscriminate sexual gratification is very pleasant but can result in numerous interpersonal complications, financial obligations or even catastrophic disease. Sexual fidelity is often difficult, but can result in long last satisfying relationships and more stable life over all. Working hard to gain a good career is unpleasant but results in more resources for satisfaction later in life.

It remains an open question whether or not we can maximize the utility of our actions through pure calculation, absent some kind of organizing ideal. Furthermore, what human capacity should we use to make this calculation? If we deny the validity of all ideals, we also deny the validity of the rational ideal. There is therefore no imperative to act rationally. We can pursue power or pleasure, but even here the question jumps out at us: “How? How should we pursue pleasure or power? In what field? In what manner?” We are thrown back on our ability to think strategically and that means to reason, and it is always easier to reason in pursuit of some goal than to try and determine one’s optimal behavior moment to moment. So we arrive at the strange position that even if holding an ethical ideal might not be defensible from all skeptical attacks, it may be more practical to hold one even provisionally, because it focuses one’s energies and simplifies one’s calculations. machiavelli

Putting these doubts aside for the moment, if we return to the original dilemma posed, a denial not of choice but of morality qua morality would argue that the ruler should avoid distinctions of good and evil simply because these are meaningless distinctions. He should rather pursue a practical course of “power politics”. He should root out the evil influences in his court, taking evil to mean here not immoral per se, but threatening to his rule. While coherent I tend to shy away from this interpretation as it would argue for a ruler more like Machiavelli’s Prince than Lao Tzu’s Sage, and that seems counter to the larger Taoist tradition, but I am admittedly not an expert.

Finally, one could simply toss the whole argument as wrong or incoherent. From a Judaeo-Christian perspective the argument is a non-starter.

moses_10_2

I’ll Never Be Ray Bradbury

I’ll never be Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury leapt up from sleep with a story running electric through his body, racing to the typewriter just in time to let the sparks discharge onto the page, grounding the story out into this world. Ray Bradbury wrote every day of his life for over seventy years, never once uncertain of his way, or doubting that he was a writer. Ray Bradbury was in love with life and people and all the things of the world, dark and light, without stopping once to sneer cynically or wallow in self- doubt and pity. I’m not Ray Bradbury, and I probably never will be, and that’s okay.

Every writer is different. I know, I know, that’s so obvious its banal. I should probably say instead that every writer needs something different. Ray needed Buck Rogers comics and Lon Chaney movies and magicians at the carnival, and a single red gleaming speck in the night sky overhead, and that was enough. I needed Tolkien, and Bradbury and Wolfe and Howard and Gygax and Leiber, and then to be swallowed up by the world and politics philosophy religion drugs madness obsession and 10,000 other things, occasionally peaking my head up, taking a few sweet breaths, and plunging down again, sometimes for years, scouring the depths for something that I didn’t know, and wasn’t sure I’d recognize anyway.

I don’t know why we need things, but it seems like we do. I don’t mean things like air and water and sunlight and love. Those things are obvious. But why do we need special things like carnivals and stories about gods and magic swords and monsters and life on other planets? And we do need them, truly NEED them, or we wither and die. We die by inches, for these are the living things, the magic things, the points of light that break through the gray of our lives like twinkling motes of some other world that is also strangely this world and the real world. It’s the every day world of traffic jams and tax forms and reports and lines – that’s the fake world, the unreal world, the murky mud bottomed underwater world. We forget we’re in that world until we touch one of those magic things that is, for us, a gateway or a transporter – a hand reaching down to us from somewhere unknown, and then we’re in the real world again, the magic world, and we can breathe air and for days or even weeks afterwords we’re our real selves again, until we forget where we came from, and believe in ridiculous things like credit ratings.

Ray Bradbury’s magic things aren’t exactly the same as my magic things, or yours. They’re not even necessarily the things you’d want them to be, but they’re the things you need. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to “fit”. You don’t have to understand. The gods understand. You just have to trust them. My wife loves horror movies, monster makeup, gore drenched killers and the whir of chainsaws carving flesh. In her off time she likes to bake. Sometimes she plays bingo with her mother at the church. She’s also fond of Scrabble. Me? It’s swords and sorcery and full moons rising over alien hills, and gateways carved of jade, wizards and barbarians, and civilizations long since forgotten. Anytime a hero overthrows a dark regime, or dies a glorious death fighting for the just cause, the tears well up in my eyes, the hair on the nape of my neck stands up, my heart glows. Maybe my wife loves horror because of those first movies she watched with her high school boyfriend, years before she came into my life. Maybe I love mythic heroes because I read stories of the Greek gods at a young age, or because of Star Wars films, or because of my early love of Dungeons and Dragons. Or maybe our magic things were always ours before we knew they existed. Maybe they were just waiting for us, reaching out to us, and we took them up because we already loved them. Think back on it. The first time you saw one of your magic things, wasn’t it a feeling of recognition? Didn’t you already know what it was, feel what it meant? Wasn’t it a missing piece of yourself falling back into place, like finding something from a past life, and knowing it used to belong to you?

Adolescence is the worst time for magic things. We want to “grow up”. We want to be serious and be taken seriously. We’re still children, and we have a child’s view of what it means to be an adult. Adolescence is a different age for everyone. For me it was my twenties. Adolescence is anytime you want to put your magic things in a box in the attic and pretend you don’t need them anymore. Even Ray Bradbury had an adolescence. He was nine and he ripped up his Buck Rogers comic because his “friends” thought it was dumb. After a few days he realized these people weren’t his friends (they really weren’t), and breathed life back into the corpse of Buck Rogers, and woke him from his slumber; and Ray Bradbury suffered no more and was one with the magic things. We’re not Ray Bradbury, so we have to suffer longer. But everyone has to suffer a little bit in this life. You have to suffer because you have to understand that the magic things are only magic if you breathe life into them. If you give them some of yourself. You have to be strong enough to give. You have to meet them half way.

We do change as we get older, and sometimes the things that were magic for us then aren’t magic in the same way for us now. They’re still magic, but it’s a different kind: the magic of memory. You change as you grow older, and you have to let your magic things grow with you. You have to take them along for the ride and let them change shape as you go. You have to do this because they’re part of you and you’re part of them, and you have to change together – otherwise you’re out of balance and grotesque. Paradoxically this is the only way to keep the magic the same, by letting it change. Magic is like that, paradoxical. We all know someone who never did this, don’t we? Someone who stayed in the nursery, afraid to let his magic things grow, stifling them, smothering them in childhood. Real adulthood comes when we realize we don’t need to try to “grow up” but have already done so and now we’re free to be who we like. We turn then, once again, to find our magic things, the things we truly love that love us in return, like monsters, and Buck Rogers, and gleaming swords, and gateways of jade on moonlit nights.

Whatever it is you love, go do it, and if you lost your magic things go find them. It’s not as hard as you think. You already know what direction to travel, you just have to set off and you’ll find your way. The hardest thing is setting off, letting go of the fear, the fear that you’ll get lost; but listen to Ray Bradbury and you’ll be alright. He said, “Stand at the top of a cliff and jump. Build your wings on the way down.”

Inching Back to the Internet

I know things have been quiet here since the reboot.  Between the day job, a new home – definitely a “fixer-upper”, and the new addition to our family, there hasn’t been much time for blogging.

If you miss my particular brand of pedantry, I’m back with my friends John and Joe from the Logical Anarchy web-cast tomorrow night from 7 till 8 PM PST live. The night’s topic will be “Western Civilization”. See you there!

As a teaser, here are some of my show notes:

Edmund Burke, a compact between the living, the dead, those yet to be born.

Three ways of looking at history:  Nietzsche’s Monumental, Antiquarian, Critical

The problem of Culture.  Where does culture come from?  Geographical, Historical, Ethnic, Philosophical [ Technical, Political, Metaphysical ]

The problem of mere Geography.The problem of Racialism

Carl Schmidt: Politics as the distinction between friend and enemy.  

Applied metaphysics – Athens and Jerusalem.  The “west” as a child of this union.  The terms of the union.  The dissolution of the union: Judeo-Christian historical claims, multiculturalism, the scale of values -Nietzsche again..

The rejection of values and post-modernism.  Tradition vs “Traditionalism”.  

Inertia and “hardening” of positions.  

Evola, Guenon, Plato revisited: the map of the decline – from transcendent values to momentary desires.  

The way forward: Heidegger, Poesis, a guardian caste, problems for anarchists.

Mission Statement

What is the meaning of Initiation?  It is the Path to the realization of your Self as the sole, the supreme, the absolute of all Truth, Beauty, Purity, Perfection!  What is the artistic sense in you?  What but the One Channel always open to you through which this Light flows freely to enkindle you (and the world through you) with flowers of inexhaustible fervour and flame?

-A. Crowley, Magick Without Tears

Contemporary paganism does not consist of erecting altars to Apollo or reviving the worship of Odin.  Instead it implies looking behind religion and, according to a now classic itinerary, seeking for the ‘mental equipment’ that produced it, the inner world it reflects, and how the world it depicts is apprehended.  In short, it consists of viewing the gods as ‘centers of values’… and the beliefs they generate as value systems: gods and beliefs may pass away, but the values remain.

– Alain de Benoist, On Being a Pagan

Theoretically any culture could be theurgic if its rites and prayers preserve the ‘eternal measures’ of creation….  Neo-platonic theurgy was imagined within a polytheistic and pluralistic cosmos: the varieties of culture and geography corresponding to the diversity of theurgic societies. This was also consistent with Iamblichus’s metaphysics where the utterly ineffable One can only be “known” in the Many, the henophany of each culture both veiling and revealing its ineffable source. To privilege any one of these henophanies over the others, to proclaim that it alone is true, is an assertion that would have been treated with contempt by theurgic Neoplatonists. For such a claim betrays the very principle of theurgy understood as cosmogonic activity rooted in an ineffable source, one that necessarily expresses itself in multiple forms of demiurgic generosity.
Theurgists would find claims to an exclusive possession of truth equivalent to the deranged assertion that the sun shines only in my backyard!

– George Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus

For the Stoics, intentions bear with themselves a value which infinitely transcends all the objects and ‘matters’ to which they are applied, for these objects and matters are themselves indifferent, and only assume a value to the extent that they provide an opportunity for intentions to be applied and become concrete. In sum, there is only one will, profound, constant, and unshakable, and it manifests itself in the most diverse actions, on the most diverse occasions and objects, all the while remaining free and transcendent with regard to the subject matters upon which it is exercised.

– Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel